Business

Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Govt business adviser Rob Fyfe frustrated over lack of progress

The Government’s business adviser on the Covid-19 recovery is frustrated over the lack of progress in getting officials to work together with the private sector to solve major issues linked to the pandemic.

Former Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB that he spoke to businesses every day that were keen to help out.

“It has been incredibly difficult to get a voice at the table.”

Fyfe said we currently have a system that was never designed to manage a long-running crisis like this.

“[It] has got so buried in trying to solve the day-to-day issues and so worn out from doing that they just can’t step back and figure out actually how do we involve everyone that has got something to contribute here.

“There are some bloody good ideas and a lot of energy out there that is being underutilised at the moment.”

Fyfe said while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was very engaged it didn’t take much to get further into the government system before there were roadblocks.

“You don’t have to get too far into the system before everything just grinds down to a slow-motion train smash. The system is overwhelmed by what they are trying to deal with.”

Fyfe said a lot of the political decisions being made were the right decisions.

“But it is just hard to get anything done at the pace we need them done inside government, inside the ministries.”

Fyfe said New Zealand was in a race against other countries now who were pulling ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We can see every day the world mobilising. We have to catch up or businesses suffer and we are seeing that now.”

He wants the government to separate into those handling the immediate crisis and those doing the long-term planning.

“At the moment we have got all that happening within individual ministries. And so much of that burden today sits on the Ministry of Health.

“What are we doing to prepare the health system for what comes next? What are we doing to leverage the ideas that Ian Taylor has for what could be doing for three months’ time.

“What are we doing to get our testing capability up and running. None of those things are happening at the pace they need to because everyone is distracted by managing today’s crisis.”

Fyfe said it was not a talent issue but a need to reorganise the system to fight the pandemic effectively.

“When you think of crisis planning you think of a volcano or an earthquake. It comes and the day after it happens you are in recovery mode.

“No one ever plans for something that was going to last for 18 months, two years, five years. So we just haven’t reorganised ourselves in the way we need to be able to fight this thing effectively.”

He said the private sector and public sector needed to be working together collaboratively.

But he admitted there was an ideological block on government going to the private sector for help and it was not a new issue.

“When things get tough I see within government there is a tendency to retreat into the shell and try and solve the problems inside government rather than go out and share the problem and get the best brains applied against the challenge.

“I’m not sure that is a function of the current government – I’ve seen those issues with government as long as I have been engaging with government for decades. It is an endemic problem within the way government operates.”

Despite his frustration, Fyfe said he was optimistic.

“I do see a pathway out of this and I look – I’m sitting in Auckland like you frustrated at the moment – we have lost our freedom to move around our country, we don’t have freedom to get together in groups. We can’t cross our international border – we have to solve those problems and vaccines are a part of it but they are not the whole problem.

“We need to be building the system to have all those freedoms back and still to keep ourselves safe.”

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